Acadie: A Family Ecology (in process)
Acadian Memorial, St. Charles aux Mines, Grand Pré, Nova Scotia
Adventures in Scamping (blog)
The story of my family is the story of movement, the ships that brought the first Babines to the shores of Acadian Nova Scotia in the 1600s, the deportation of those Acadians in 1755 to France, to Maine and Massachusetts, to Louisiana where they became Cajuns, the return of my family twenty years after Le Grand Dérangement, to settle in another part of Nova Scotia. The story of my family is the story of my great-grandparents packing up their lives after they married in Massachusetts in 1922 and moving to Long Beach, California, where my grandfather and his twin brother were born. The story of my family is the story of my grandfather's Army service in Europe, my father's Air Force travels.The story of my family is the story of both parents camping with their families, my father in tents, my mother in a pop up. The story of my family is the story of a 1972 Starcraft pop up camper with a clever swing-out kitchen pulled by a black Blazer, three little girls crammed in the backseat, as we camped from our home in Minnesota to see family in California through Dinosaur National Monument, Yellowstone, the Petrified Forest, playing the License Plate Game for a prize of Dairy Queen if we got all fifty. We always did, because national park parking lots and military bases were not considered cheating. My story is written in the language of my 13 ft. Scamp camper, camping alone wherever I like, hitching the camper to the Jeep in 2014 to search out the point where my family decided we will not tell this story, where we decided that each generation will create its own story.
"Beautiful Sun, in a Minor Key." Proximity. June 2017.
Interview with Dina Relles, Proximity's blog editor, August 2017
DR: You do travel writing as well as writing about your roots—for example, you’ve written a manuscript set in Galway, Ireland. What is the difference between writing one’s homeland and one’s visiting-land? As our guest quarterly editor, Brad Modlin, mused: “Perhaps a travel writer is always ‘camping out’/living temporarily/on the edge of being somewhere else.” What do you think?
KB: I think of nature-place-travel writing as three sides of a prism. What you write depends on which direction you’re looking, the angle of the sunlight. The way I’m approaching the Galway book (which I’m actually having trouble with) is as place writing: what matters, on the page, is the place itself, not the movement of the narrator to get there. Galway is an incredibly interesting place, one that has a gravitational pull for me, and the root of the book is to find out how that has come to be. It’s the only major Irish city not founded by the Vikings, for one. And it was recently named the 2020 European City of Culture, which is really terrific.
My true travel writing (at least lately) is in my deep love for camping. My family camped in a 1972 Starcraft pop-up when I was a kid and it was the best way to grow up, learning how to level a camper, how to build a fire, learning how to do things that we never would have otherwise. On one level, camping was the easiest and cheapest way to get us from Minnesota to California to visit my dad’s family, but we spent time in the national parks, monuments, historic sites, mountains, deserts—and not only was that good for our family, but it became the basis for a lot of the stories we still tell today.
For myself, though, I realized that if I didn’t travel solo, I’d never go anywhere, so I took my first solo trip to Ireland in 2005 and have been back several times by myself. I bought my 13 ft. Scamp camper in 2008 and I tow it (solo) with my Jeep. Everything with the Scamp is solo: I hitch it by myself (without needing anyone to help line me up), I back it in, I can tow it through a thunderstorm in Montreal with road construction signs in French by myself. (That last one is the stuff of nightmares…) I like traveling by myself, I love the fiberglass of the camper (which means I don’t have to deal with wet canvas, the bane of my father’s camping existence), I love all the modifications we’ve made to it (Dad still doesn’t trust me with his power tools)—and it is the most perfect thing in the world. I was out there the other day after we had a hail storm come through, checking to make sure it was okay, and even after all these years, the Scamp is still a magical thing for me.
In 2014, though, I packed up the Scamp (and the cats) and headed from Minnesota to Nova Scotia to research my dad’s family. We were among the first Acadian settlers in Nova Scotia in the 17th century and we were expelled with the rest of the Acadians in 1755, though we somehow made it back. I have this theory that my dad’s family’s story is written in movement, in miles, and I wanted to physically be in the place where that happened. It was a great trip, a little terrifying, but I’ve been trying to figure out how to get back there since leaving. That is the basis of the piece that Brad chose for Proximity, “Beautiful Sun, in a Minor Key.” My grandfather passed away last week and so the stories I’m looking for will have to come from elsewhere.
In this piece at The Geographical Turn, you are mentioned as engaging with Tim Robinson’s work to suggest “the idea that the harder one tries to claim a piece of land the more elusive that ownership becomes.”
Can you expand on the duality between the rootedness in your writing—how place shapes those who live there and the stories they tell across time—contrasted with the evolution of landscapes, the elusiveness of ownership when it comes to land?
KB: I didn’t know that piece existed—thank you! I love Robinson. Everybody should read Robinson. (Everybody should read Paul Gruchow, which is a related belief.)
The thing about Robinson is that he’s English, not Irish. He’s a mathematician by training, a painter—and also a writer. He came to the Aran Islands in the 1970s with his wife and after a while the postmistress suggested he draw a map of Inishmore (the largest of the islands). He thought it was a worthwhile project, but quickly learned that it was not as easy as he thought it would be. The process of drawing that map turned into two immense volumes of work: Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage and Stones of Aran: Labyrinth. In the process of drawing this map, he learned that placenames were not only linguistically significant, but historically significant, and often told the story of what happened in that place. In addition, because of the complicated geology of the islands, a cliff that was there one day may be gone the next. Location is a spot on a map; place is context, everything you bring to a location. As a result, his work combines all the elements that makes place writing what it is: it’s history, geography, geology, culture, language, and more. And, that man can write a sentence, which is enough reason to read him by itself.
To know a place—and to know yourself—you need to know the place itself. That means understanding that you’re a speck in a timeline, that the place had a history before you got there and it will continue to have a story after you’re gone. This is what I think is important about environmental work in general: we won’t kill the planet. We can’t. It’s gone through mass extinctions before. What we can do is make it uninhabitable for humans (which has also happened before)—and so not only is it important to know what shifts in climate do to places we call home, it’s important to know what it has done in the past. When I lived in Spokane, an area called the Channeled Scablands, it’s the most interesting landscape—it looks so weird. When you dig into it, you realize the story of the Missoula Floods, which were ice age floods that happened as a result of the ice dams backing up Glacial Lake Missoula breaking. Glacial Lake Missoula was the size of Lakes Erie and Ontario combined. That much water tore up the landscape. When you drive west from Spokane on Highway 2, you notice that the landscape has become a lot of weirdly uniform hills—in the 1920s, a couple of geologists speculated that these were created as the result of water, but were basically laughed at, because where would that much water have come from? Well, when we got satellite imagery, the ripple marks were visible from space. It had been water. The lack of topsoil affects those who live in eastern Washington and it affects those in southern Washington and northern Oregon, who reaped the benefits of all that topsoil being deposited there. Just because humans were not involved in the story of the Channeled Scablands does not mean the story does not exist.
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